Bouchard Finlayson: small boutique vineyard with big wines!


Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak 2012 Whale Cottage PortfolioOn Wednesday evening I attended a special tasting of the wines of Bouchard Finlayson, a Boutique Vineyard according to its marketing material,  at the invitation of Janie van der Spuy of FIVE STAR PR.  It was held in the special function room upstairs at Mondiall, with Chef Oliver Cattermole and his team preparing excellent tapas dishes which were paired with the four flights of wines we tasted.

I have to admit that I have not previously stopped at Bouchard Finlayson on the R320 Wine Route in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in Hermanus, it being the longest standing wine farm in the area.  I was fortunate to sit next to Peter Finlayson, who has been at the farm for 25 years.  He studied Oenology (Chemistry was a tough subject, but he is grateful for the grounding it gave him for winemaking) at Stellenbosch University, which he followed up with a year at Geisenheim in Germany.    Of his class of nine graduating in 1974, only two have become winemakers.  Peter previously worked at Boschendal.  Only 22 ha of the 125 ha farm is planted to vine, Peter having bought it in 1989 from a farmer Bouchard Finlayson Peter Finlayson Whale Cottage Portfoliowho farmed with ‘mielies, sheep, and baboons‘, Peter said, at a time when the locals said that the valley was only suitable ‘for farming by poor Whites’!  The baboons are still there, he told me with a laugh!   The remainder of the land is covered with fynbos, and Bouchard Finlayson is committed to conserving and adding fynbos, and they joined the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative. Peter was the first winemaker to import Nebbiolo and Sangiovese vines, planting them in 1994.  His real achievement has been with Pinot Noir, known as the ‘Pioneer of Pinot Noir’, and now the whole valley is synonymous with the varietal.    Galpin Peak Pinot Noir is the flagship Bouchard Finlayson wine.   Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also do exceptionally well in the valley.

Peter’s hero was Paul Bouchard, whom he met when he visited Burgundy as part of his prize as Diners Club Winemaker of the Year in 1989, and he became part of the partnership at the farm, making wines. In 2000 the Tollman family, with hotel interests locally (Twelve Apostles, The Oyster Box, Bushmanskloof Wilderness Reserve), as well as in the UK, USA, and Europe. bought the wine estate, with Peter staying on as General Manager and winemaker.  Bouchard Finlayson is close to the Atlantic Ocean.  Galpin Peak (810 meters) and the Tower of Babel (at 1200 meters higher than Table Mountain, and close to Creation, which is co-owned by his niece Carolyn Martin – daughter of his equally well-known but now retired winemaker brother Walter – and her husband JC)  trap the cloud cover and the moisture from the ocean.

Mondiall Bouchard Finlayson Tasting MondiallWe commenced with a tasting of the 1998, 2003, and 2012 vintages of Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer, a blend of Rhine Riesling and Viognier in the main, to which Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay have been added.  Peter said that the 1998 vintage was hand-bottled, and that it has Bouchard Finlayson seared yellowtail Whale Cottage Portfolioaged extremely well, it being a ‘star performer’.  The 2012 blend is now the benchmark for future vintages.  Peter said that the wine is their entry level white, and that one can put the bottles down to enjoy at a later date. They are very proud that 120 cases of the 2012 vintage are now available at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, their first non-French wine! Chef Oliver had paired this flight with seared yellowtail, with sesame seed and Japanese mayonnaise which we ate with chopsticks.

I also sat next to Dr Eilis Cryan, who owns Kinnegar Wines, predominantly specialising in South African wines. She had an interest in wines, and did the WSET wine course in Ireland.  Eiles and her husband Seamus attended a medical  congress in Cape Town in 1998, and were taken to some wine estates by Andre Morgenthal of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), including De Trafford and Thelema.  They were struck by the (unexpected to them) quality of what they saw and tasted, given the poor quality South African wines they had found in their local supermarkets.  Eilis runs the wine import company almost single-handedly, at night after her medical duties are done.   Her portfolio now includes Thelema, De Trafford, Mullineux, Buitenverwachting, Glen Carlou, Meerlust, Hartenberg, and most recently, Bouchard Finlayson.  Eilis makes personal recommendations to her clients.  Her suppliers make quality wines  and own family businesses, which she sells to the best restaurants in Ireland.  She shared that she attended a function at the South African Embassy in Dublin almost a year ago, and was shocked to see that Italian and French wines were served alongside South African wines!

Bouchard Finlayson Oysters Whale Cottage PortfolioThe Sauvignon Blanc flight included the Bouchard Finlayson 2006 vintage (its quality has not dipped, and has aged well) as well as the 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (with 14% Semillon, and is the wine Peter drinks the most), to which Peter added the neighbouring Hamilton Russell’s Ashbourne Sandstone 2006, which is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Chardonnay, and 5% Semillon.   Chef Oliver paired West Coast oysters with this flight.

The Pinot Noirs were eagerly awaited, being the 2000, 2009, and 2010 vintages of the Bouchard Finlayson Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir.  Peter agreed that the best Pinots come from the Hemel-en-AardeBouchard Finlayson Duck Whale Cottage Portfolio Valley, but singled out Gottfried Mocke of Chamonix as an excellent Pinot producer too.   The 2000 vintage is Peter’s favourite, and he told us under which trying conditions they made it, with an extremely hot summer as well as hail.  The 2010 vintage is darker in colour, and ‘more meaty‘.  The recent Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration had been excellent, and brought the winemakers of the Valley together for a common purpose.  It is likely to become an annual event.  Chef Oliver prepared an excellent taster of duck rillette, mushroom ragout, and fresh fig, to pair with this flight.

Bouchard Finlayson Beetroot Balls Whale Cottage PortfolioThe last tasting flight was dedicated to Chardonnay, the Australian Seppelt Jaluka Chardonnay 2004 not receiving as much appeal as did the Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay 2004 and the Crocodile’s Lair 2003.  Chardonnay is the biggest selling cultivar at Bouchard Finlayson.  Peter said about aging the wines in wood: ‘The better the Chardonnay, the better it handles the wood‘.   Chef Oliver offered deep-fried crumbed balls of risotto infused with beetroot purée and stuffed with goat’s cheese, served with horseradish cream, to pair with the flight.

I asked Peter how it is to report to an owner, since the Tollmans took over, and he proudly told me that his third five-year contract with them has been signed.  He described the relationship between winemaker and owner as a ‘team sport‘, in which one has to find balance,  and ultimately the owners are entitled to have the very best wines made. This Peter does proudly and passionately with his team. The Tollman properties take up 20% of their production, 7% is sold via the tasting room, 20% is exported to the UK, and 15% jointly goes to the USA, the Netherlands, and to Canada.   A great book has been produced about the winery, and he said that there are not many winemakers at his age of 65 years who are still allowed ‘to crow‘!   He is proud of his son Peter-Allan, who makes wines under the Crystallum brand with his brother Andrew.   Peter’s father was a doctor, and owned Hartenberg, but lost the property in the ‘Seventies when interest rates went over 20%.

I will definitely visit Bouchard Finlayson on my next visit to Hermanus, after this special introduction to the boutique vineyard and its excellent wines.

Disclosure:   We received a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2012, and a book about Bouchard Finlayson, documenting its history, wine range, awards won, and its focus on Biodiversity.

Bouchard Finlayson, R320, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus.   Tel (o28) 312-3515.  Twitter: @BouchFinlayson

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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4 replies on “Bouchard Finlayson: small boutique vineyard with big wines!”

  1. ” it being the longest standing wine farm in the area” I feel a bit bad being so picky on your blog, which I greatly enjoy, and I realise I am a outsider and may miss the nuances — but surely the almost adjacent Hamilton Russell was the first pioneering wine farm in that area by 15 years or so, and wasn’t Peter Finlayson the winemaker at Hamilton Russell before he decided to join with Bouchard and set up his own near by wine farm??

    • In the Bouchard Finlayson book they write ‘…setting up and running the first modern winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’, without specifying that this was at Hamilton Russell (or at Bouchard Finlayson for that matter), something I may have misinterpreted.

      I am so grateful for your regular input, and reading of our blog Pater.

  2. FYI… Tim H R purchased HRV around the mid 70’s and as I recall was the first wine farm in the valley and if memory serves Peter was the the first winemaker at HRV, later going on to open Bouchard Finlayson.

    I know HRV celebrated 30 years of Chardonnay last year.

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